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Significant increase in election campaigning expenditures from previous year, reports show

The largest single amount was spent by a candidate who ran for Student Council President

<p>In recent years, many campaigns have focused on social media as a means of advertisement, which allows for low-cost campaigning.&nbsp;</p>

In recent years, many campaigns have focused on social media as a means of advertisement, which allows for low-cost campaigning. 

Total spending on the 2023 student elections has almost doubled since last year’s elections, according to interim spending reports and final data by the University Board of Elections. Overall funds for this year’s campaigns, including Student Council, the Honor Committee, the University Judiciary Committee and the School Councils, rose to $3,192 — almost a 90 percent increase from last year.

Total expenditures for Student Council president candidates rang in at $1,540 — a stark jump from spending on other elections, though most of the spending was associated with one candidate. Other Student Council Cabinet candidates reported spending $435 total. Spending on Class Council campaigns rang up at $528.42, and the Student Bar Association candidates spent $584. Total reported spending for Honor candidates was $46.40, while the UJC candidate total came in at a reported $16.50.

Expenditure reports are submitted by candidates to UBE and must include “any and all expenditures made related to all campaign and election materials, services and activities,” according to UBE regulations. Luke Lamberson, chair of UBE and third-year Commerce student, said the publicly released report serves to hold candidates accountable. He hopes to further publicize this resource in the future to inform more voters.

“Transparency is our main goal,” Lamberson said. “There's no limit on how much you can spend.”

According to Lamberson, the heightened spending is because of an increase in contested elections. This was the first time since 2016 that both vice president positions were contested

The major area of expenditures was the campaign for Student Council president, which was contentested between three candidates — third-year College students Vidar Hageman, Tenzin Lodoe and Tichara Roberston. 

Hageman alone reported $1,400 in spending on items such as yard signs, magnets, stickers and T-shirts, according to the final report. That is a more than five-fold increase from last year’s highest spending, which was $265. Hageman’s running mate, third-year College student Maryam Virk, reported that she did spend the $250 listed on the interim report in an email to The Cavalier Daily, but did not respond to requests to complete the UBE’s form by publication date. 

Robertson, who won the election with 56 percent of the vote, reported only $100 of spending from flyers and campaign photos on as interim expenses.

Lodoe started a GoFundMe page and raised $1,200 in anticipation of social media advertising expenses prior to the close of the election. Due to processing delays, however, his campaign was unable to finalize purchases before voting ended and returned the full fundraising amount back to donors. Despite these challenges, Lodoe spoke to the importance of digital publicity efforts.

“I believed that if we put our name out there, people would resonate with our policies and mission,” Lodoe said. “We needed to overcome that challenge, because going door to door, person to person, you can only cover so much ground.” 

While campaigning ideally serves to promote platforms, some candidates worried that excess spending creates an unfair advantage for certain students. First-year Engineering student Alex Church, who ran for Honor class representative and spent $5 on their campaign, said money has a damaging influence on University elections. 

“I think it's sort of expected that, in order to do well, you have to at least put a little bit of money into it, which I think is a really dangerous expectation,” Church said. “Our goal as a University should be to allow anybody to run for something regardless of their financial status.”

In recent years, many campaigns have focused on social media as a means of advertisement, which allows for low-cost campaigning. Third-year College student Nishita Ghanate, who was elected Honor College representative, said that many campaigns apart from the major Student Council elections do not spend at all. Ghanate herself ran a fully digital — and free — campaign, which she said was the norm for Honor candidates. 

Second-year College student Lisa Kopelnik, who was elected UJC College representative, also ran a free, fully digital campaign and feels it has been successful. Kopelnik doesn’t believe that money spent on campaigns has an undue influence on University elections, and may even serve to undermine a candidate’s authenticity. 

“I don't think that the more money that you spend guarantees a win,” Kopelnik said. “If people see that you're spending an exorbitant amount of money, they may see it as more corrupted. They may see you as less genuine.”

Additionally, UBE offers application based campaign grants — awarded to those in need of financial assistance — to be used on campaign materials excluding food and drink. According to Lamberson, all grant requests were met this year, totaling approximately $300.

“Those grants come out of our budget, and we have a pretty small one,” Lamberson said. “I'm hopeful that in the future years, maybe we can have a bigger budget, so maybe we can provide more campaign grants and make sure we advertise them more.”

Church said that although they were aware of the campaign grants, they saw the process as poorly advertised and unclear. They also said they would like to see an upper limit for candidates’ expenditures, which are currently unlimited under UBE regulations.

Despite the UBE’s goals for transparency, not all candidates completed the final expenditures form by the deadline. Along with the $250 from Virk not represented on the final form, the $3,247 figure includes $334 of interim spending reported by Student Bar Association candidates Nina Herth and Thomas Cerja — who did not respond to requests to update data before time of press.

Lamberson said he would support increased regulations on expenditures in the future, specifically regarding the rise of social media advertising that allows non-CIO groups to widely promote candidates. He added that UBE will examine its regulations on referendum campaigning, given last year and this year’s Honor referendums, but did not provide more specific details. 

“We’ve now had a string of a few years in a row with pretty important and influential referenda on the ballot,” Lamberson said. “And I think building out the rules and regulations around that is also something that we're interested in the future.”

Results for the election were announced March 2, and final expenditures numbers were released March 16.

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